Few theme songs in TV history were as unforgettable as “Love Is All Round,” the Sonny Curtis-written and performed theme to the classic ’70s prime-time dramedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show, soundtracking a credits sequence so iconic that it merits its own separate Wikipedia entry.
From the opening rhetorical “Who can turn the world on with her smile?,” the working-girl anthem packs the kind of indomitable wistfulness that defines so much of the best pop music in any medium — an unreserved positivity that belies a sense of barely concealed sadness always threatening to bubble up from underneath the surface. It rendered anyone who hadn’t already fallen in love with Mary Tyler Moore herself — who died at age 80 on Wednesday (Jan. 25) — hopelessly smitten, because it inspired such an overwhelming surge of polarized emotion.
A band that would certainly know something about this musical sensation were ’80s underground rock legends Hüsker Dü, who depending on your definition of “emo” were either the greatest emo band of all time or not emo in the slightest, how dare you even suggest. “Love Is All Around” was a natural choice of cover for the Hüskers, who welded soaring guitars and gorgeous melodies to scraping sonics and despairing lyrics like no other band of their generation. If anyone could capture both the effervescence and the just-out-of-sight hollowness at the core of the Mary Tyler Moore theme, it was frontman Bob Mould, whose guitar sheen provided a brilliant suit of armor for vocals that always seemed to know deep down that he wasn’t gonna make it after all.
Hüsker Dü never released their shimmering rendition of “Love Is All Around” on an album, but they used it as the B-side for 1985 single “Makes No Sense at All” and even included the cover as a coda at the end of the “No Sense” music video. The juxtaposition was a brilliant one — the vocal melody of “No Sense” lightly evoked “Love Is All Around,” but the song’s lyrics (“Walking around with your head in the clouds/ Is it important, you’re yelling so loud/ It makes no sense at all”) served as an undercutting contrast to the theme’s dogged optimism, suggesting a protagonist thoroughly misguided about their ability to make a nothing day somehow seem worthwhile. The group’s cover coming in at video’s close suggests that both songs are really two sides of the same flipped beret, and that it often just comes down to perception as to whether you’re legitimately floating through the clouds or really just full of hot air.
Mary Tyler Moore became a generation’s hero in the ’70s playing a character who — like most of the rest of us, in just about any era — wasn’t always positive she knew what she was doing but really hoped that she did. And it makes sense that even as her character would attempt to project the confidence of the show’s theme, she’d be wondering in the back of her mind if anything about what she was doing really made sense at all. The Husker Du version of her main theme acknowledges that dread but doesn’t succumb to futility, still resolute in its “Well it’s you girl, and you should know it” insistence, chiming guitars and pounding drums. The final lesson of the cover, and maybe the song in general: None of us are ever totally secure in our ability to take the world on, but we fake it until we make it.